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Pallone Leads Democratic Efforts to Pass Bipartisan Legislation to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

September 28, 2018
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6: The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, a bipartisan package of provisions to expand access to treatment and make long-term progress in addressing the opioid epidemic. Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), the Ranking Member of the House and Energy Commerce Committee, was a lead House negotiators on this final bipartisan bill that was negotiated between House and Senate health leaders.

“This bill is another step in addressing the opioid crisis that is ravaging every community in our nation,” Pallone said.  “Last year a record 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses – that’s about 200 people dying every day.  This is a national crisis that is devastating families, and this Congress must act.” 

The final bill also includes two provisions authored by Pallone.  The New Jersey congressman authored a provision that expands Medicare coverage of Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).  Currently, OTPs are not recognized as Medicare providers, meaning that beneficiaries receiving MAT at OTPs for their opioid use disorders must pay out-of-pocket. In 13 states, the highest rate of opioid-related inpatient hospital stays is among individuals over the age of 65. Under H.R. 6, Medicare will pay OTPs through bundled payments made for holistic services, including necessary medications, counseling, and testing.

Pallone also authored a provision known as the SCREEN Act, which will give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the ability to take action against illicit controlled substances coming in through International Mail Facilities across the country.  FDA will now be able to prohibit the importation of drugs by people who have repeatedly imported illicit drugs.  It also allows the agency to cease distribution of or recall controlled substances, like opioids, if they are endangering patients.     

In 2016, there were 1409 opioid-related overdose deaths­­­ in New Jersey. Heroin-related deaths rose from 97 deaths in 2010 to 850 deaths in 2016. In New Jersey, more than 184,000 individuals have been admitted to substance abuse treatment facilities for heroin or opioid abuse since 2010 and more than 5,000 have died from heroin-related deaths since 2004. 

On the House floor today, Pallone praised the passage of the bill, while emphasizing the need to provide additional funding and resources to combat the opioid epidemic.

“This legislation has the potential to make a real impact on this epidemic, but our work here is not complete,” Pallone said.  “An epidemic of this size will take a long-term commitment to improving health insurance coverage, treatment access, and affordability.  This bill is an important step, but we must do a lot more. The opioid crisis continues to get worse.  A lot more needs to be done to provide treatment and expand the treatment infrastructure. And more resources are needed to support the families and communities impacted by this crisis. What we’re doing today is clearly helpful, but it is not enough.”

Other provisions include:

Expanding the type of providers who can treat patients with buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD). Currently, only physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can use buprenorphine (one of the drugs used in MAT) to treat patients with OUD. H.R. 6 would expand access to MAT by authorizing clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and certified registered nurse anesthetists to treat up to 100 patients with OUD with buprenorphine for five years.

Mandating Medicaid coverage for all forms of MAT. Currently, while all state Medicaid programs cover buprenorphine and naltrexone, 14 state Medicaid programs still do not cover Methadone.  Under this bill, every state Medicaid program will be required to cover all three forms of MAT for five years.

Expanding access to MAT by increasing the number of patients with OUD certain providers can treat with buprenorphine in the first year.  Currently, providers with DATA 2000 waivers can treat up to 30 patients in their first year. H.R. 6 would allow certain providers to immediately start treating 100 patients at a time with buprenorphine (skipping the initial 30 patient cap) if the physician has board certification in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry or if the practitioner provides MAT in a qualified practice setting.

Expanding the number of physicians waived to treat patients with buprenorphine.

Currently, with limited exception, physicians have to take an eight-hour training course to obtain a waiver to treat patients with buprenorphine. H.R. 6 would allow eight hours of training on treating and managing opioid-dependent patients received in medical school or a medical residency program to meet this waiver requirement. H.R. 6 also creates a grant program to provide funding to medical schools and teaching hospitals to develop curricula that meets this requirement.

Providing consistent Medicaid coverage for at-risk youth. H.R. 6 requires state Medicaid programs to suspend, as opposed to terminate, a juvenile’s medical assistance eligibility when a juvenile is incarcerated. A state must restore coverage upon release without requiring a new application unless the individual no longer meets the eligibility requirements for medical assistance.

Grants to link educational agencies with mental health systems. H.R. 6 increases student access to evidence-based trauma support services to help prevent and mitigate the effects of trauma on children and youth. Such services may include fostering safe environments through social and emotional learning.

Increasing access to mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) services for children and pregnant women under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  This bill requires state CHIP programs to cover mental health benefits, including SUD services for eligible pregnant women and children.